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Versatility & depth CAN make anything possible for Illinois

This is the most versatile team in the Brad Underwood era.

Jack Jungmann // TCR

If there was one word to describe this Illini basketball roster, it would be versatile. When thinking of players who truly can and do only play one position (and get playing time), I could only think of Dain Dainja... and probably Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn? That's pretty much it, and even those two aren't starters.

Height.

It really all comes down to one thing. This team is tall and it helps.

This isn’t the type of team like Purdue or Indiana where the height comes from one guy in the paint, (Zach Edey, Kel’el Ware), but rather everyone is just pretty tall.

Just looking at the guards played significant minutes last game:

  • Shannon is 6’6”
  • Domask is 6’6”
  • Rodgers is 6’6”
  • Gibbs-Lawhorn is 6’1”
  • Goode is 6’7”

What’s crazier than their height, is that I had to think pretty hard at who I considered a guard, because you could argue that almost every single one of those guys are forwards.

For reference, last game these were the Hoosiers’ guards who played:

  • Trey Galloway is 6’5”
  • Xavier Johnson is 6’3”
  • Gabe Capps is 6’2”
  • Anthony Leal is 6’5”

When Mike Woodson was talking ahead of the matchup the Illini won on Saturday, he said, “They basically play small basketball and they force you to try to go small, as well,” which confused me, because there’s barely a player on the roster that could be considered “small”, especially considering 6-foot-10 Coleman Hawkins plays 35 minutes a game.

Speaking of Hawkins...

Coleman Hawkins

Jack Jungmann // TCR

Possibly the most versatile player on the court any given night against any given team. The guy is able to guard any position, and back it up with almost three steals and two blocks per game this season.

If you’ve been on Illinois Twitter the past few months, odd are you’ve seen charts like this from Hoops Informatics, who creates awesome graphics with data from the season.

Almost every single graphic has his value above the rest, because of his ability to guard anyone on the court while being able to play offense like a center and shoot like a guard. In an article about versatility, this is the guy.

Shooting

Jack Jungmann // TCR

Shooting could be the most important part of this team, and it displays the versatility perfectly. On a team where almost everyone is 6-foot-6, of the players who have fewer than 19 three pointers made, only one of them has over 200 minutes, and that is Ty Rodgers.

If you go to ESPN and look at Illinois’ three point percentage this season (34.1%), which is 172 out of 362 teams. That's less than inspiring! BUT, if you consider that seven different players shoot when they're open — AND that five of those seven guys are 6-foot-6 or taller — it creates a different story.

Back to versatility, the team can shoot pretty well, and if you look at the two point FG%, mostly from driving/paint scoring, the ranking shoots all the way up to 65th out of 362 teams.

The most versatility we’ve seen...

Was the 2020-21 basketball team better than this year’s squad? I think the answer is a pretty confident “yes”, as they clocked in as a one seed. However, the amount of versatility on this squad is completely unmatched.

Going back, that team played “position-full basketball” rather than the position-less basketball we see today. You can name the clear position of pretty much every single player on that roster without too much question.

  • Ayo - Guard
  • Trent - Guard
  • Belo - Guard
  • Kofi - Center
  • etc,.

Of everyone who played, maybe Jacob Grandison and Da’Monte Williams were the only ones with question marks of what position they played night in and night out.

That question is pretty clearly answered by saying this team is more versatile, but the question that we won’t know until March is “is that better?” and I think it could be. Having this much variability in who can play where is a matchup nightmare and creates a situation where this team has a shot to beat any team they play, and might even finish getting over that hump in March.